By on July 6, 2018

2017 Chevrolet Sonic

Chevrolet’s little Sonic hatchback and sedan, built alongside the electric Bolt at General Motors’ Orion Assembly Plant, will return for the 2019 model year with a notable powertrain change. We already knew a 2019 version of the Sonic — rumored to be on the chopping block — was a go (thanks to California Air Resources Board certification docs), but the contents of an order guide now show greater standard torque than the 2018 model.

Notice we said torque, not horsepower. 

That’s because for 2019, the Sonic ditches its never-talked-about base 1.8-liter four-cylinder in favor of a turbocharged unit. An order guide seen by GMAuthority shows the entry-level engine, once offered in the first-generation Cruze, disappears, and along with it its 138 horsepower and 125 lb-ft of torque.

In its place is the engine available as an upgrade since the Sonic’s 2012 debut: a turbocharged 1.4-liter inline-four generating 138 hp but a much healthier 148 lb-ft of torque. This engine also sets up shop in the Trax crossover, though it disappeared from the Cruze for that model’s second generation. A choice of six-speed manual or automatic remain round out the returning transmission choices.

2017 Chevrolet Sonic, Image: General Motors

Other changes to the 2019 Sonic are minor. Two paint colors bit the dust — Ivy Metallic and Arctic Blue Metallic — but in their place a new color (“Shock”) enters the palette. Don’t expect a subdued hue. Buyers will no longer have a Fun and Sun Package on their options list, so say goodbye to that turbo/sunroof/painted wheel combo.

In even more minor news, the Sonic LT sedan, when equipped with automatic transmission, loses its standard remote start. Buyers can add that feature back via the LT trim’s Convenience Package.

Greater standard twist is a good thing, but it’s debatable whether the 2019 upgrades will persuade many buyers to take a second look at Sonic. The model’s sales have slipped continuously for years. Sonic’s 2017’s tally was less than one-third of 2014’s volume, and this year hasn’t brought any improvements. Year-to-date, Sonic sales fell 41.2 percent compared to the same period last year.

While the Sonic stages a return for 2019, it’s hard to see the model surviving much longer without a rebound in sales.

[Images: General Motors]

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46 Comments on “Returning Chevrolet Sonic Ditches an Unloved Engine...”


  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    As a second-gen Cruze owner, the improved 1.4-liter turbo feels much punchier and better than the one in the first-gen Cruze (and this Sonic).

    Too bad, as DeadWeight points out, the rest of the second-gen Cruze feels cost-cut in comparison and lacks the solidity of the old model. And mine is fully-loaded, too; I wonder how the baser models feel.

    • 0 avatar
      threeer

      Kyree, I own a mid-spec LT hatch (2017). Coming out of a fairly loaded 2013 2LT (with leather, sunroof and RS appearance package), the new Cruze feels quite a bit down-market. I wish they would have at least sprung (sprang??) for a leather-covered steering wheel. Sure, some of the tech is nicer on the new variant, and I dig it being a true hatchback…but I think I prefer the 2013. What I really wish is that I would have looked further/harder to find a leftover manual trans version.

      The Sonic was sort of on the radar as a replacement, but we had such a good experience with the Cruze (it was given to my son after his GF was hit by a semi truck, totaling his much-loved 1997 Tercel in the process) that we took another chance on a Cruze. It’s already been in the shop four times for some electrical gremlins, and admittedly subpar capabilities of the dealership service department.

      • 0 avatar
        statikboy

        threeer, I you don’t mind, could you help me to understand something?

        Why did you move to a new vehicle? The way you word it, the hatchback and the updated tech are not super important to you and you should have been able to see that “the new Cruze feels quite a bit down-market” before making the purchase. The old 2LT was only 4 years old at trade-in – practically new by my reckoning – and, even if you put a tonne of miles on it, the cost of a couple of major maintenance items, including a few days of rental vehicle, are far outweighed be the cost of a new vehicle. Why get rid of a car you already know you like?

        Ah, just re-read your post. Mistaken read that your son gave you the first Cruze. Still, I would have kept my car for myself. He should be grateful to be given any car.

        (Sad about the ’97 Tercel. Those were perfect for what they were.)

      • 0 avatar
        Robotdawn

        I also own a LT hatch and previously owned 2013 Cruze and feel almost the opposite. I know we GM owners are used to solid feeling cars, and the new Cruze doesn’t feel that way at all, I agree.
        But outside of that and not getting an expected increase in fuel mileage, I’m very pleased with the new Cruze. All the ‘little’ things GM used to door poorly they have done well this time.
        We’ll see how it holds up, but I’m impressed so far.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      Just a $300 Trifecta ecu tune away from a knock out.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    With Ford biting the bullet and ditching their unprofitable sedans, can Chevy be far behind?

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      I could see GM doing the opposite. To get a subcompact at FCA you’ve got to go to Fiat. Ford is soon to drop its sedans.

      I think there will be consolidation (Chevy has 4 sedans currently, I could see that cut to 2) but whoever is “last man standing” in the old Big 3 among sedan buyers will clean up.

    • 0 avatar
      Peter Gazis

      Ford needed the factory space to build more pickups & SUVs.
      I think Subaru will be the next company to kill its sedans because it needs more space to build crossovers.

  • avatar
    "scarey"

    I had a 2005 Aveo. I had the car for 5 years. Yes, I know it is not exactly the same car, but it had the same 1.8 motor. The car was absolutely a great car except for one thing, the LOUSY gas mileage. At the time, I commuted about 75 miles each way 5 days a week for one year. The gas mileage that I was getting was so poor that when I traded for a Ford Ranger (4 cyl. 2.3L), I spent noticeably less on gas. I can’t quote exact figures, because I rarely calculated the mileage, but several tanks got me in the 18-19 mpg range. Extremely poor for such a small car.

    • 0 avatar
      Thatkat09

      I’m sure the engines are related but off the top of my head, all Aveos sold in North America had a 1.6 I4. My sister had an electric blue 2008. It was a poorly constructed car, all things considered. And not all that reliable. The straw that broke the camels back for my sister was both the driver and passenger front windows falling into the door on the same week. She traded it in for a used PT Cruiser in 2012, which shockingly has been far more reliable.

    • 0 avatar

      ThatKat and statikboy are correct. We have both a ‘08 Aveo and ‘15 Sonic in our garage. The Acceo, like all of them, has a 1.6 liter engine which has 103 hp and we’ve managed to get 34mpg at best. The Sonic has the base 1.8 which has 138hp, and we’ve managed to get 43mpg on freeway runs. Although related, the 1.8 is a quicker, more efficient animal

    • 0 avatar
      Guitar man

      2005 Aveo had the Daewoo Modular Engine, co-developed with Porsche, similar to the Proton CamPro and Chery ACTECO engines (also developed by Porsche).

      This is a totally different engine to the Opel Family I 1.8L engine used in the Sonic, which is a small bore version of the engine in the Cavalier.

    • 0 avatar
      tankinbeans

      I remember one of my many online comparisons between an Aveo, admittedly several years old with older technology, and a new 2.5 litre Escape (2014). I was amazed that the ratings for the heavier vehicle with a bigger engine were the exact same. I couldn’t figure out how that was possible. Even a contemporary Accord had identical ratings.

      Seeing the forward march of economy ratings gets me every time.

  • avatar
    Thatkat09

    I might be the only one, but I found the 1.8 I4 in the Sonic to be more than bearable for a daily driver. Not great on gas, and not all that smooth. But a better experience that a Mirage or a Fiesta with the 1.6(IMO).

    • 0 avatar

      I think the 1.8 liter on our Sonic is sufficient and never feels pressed for more power. At least with the five-speed manual. It’s not a rocket, but it does the job well. Compared to the gutless Honda Fit that it replaced, the Sonic feels downright fast

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    The old Sonic was quick compared to my pickup’s 112 horses and 111ft-lbs. Hot weather rolls in and both seem to fall. It’s not worth swapping the engine for a turbo since I’m also wanting to upgrade to an extended cab, though it might improve resale value for someone else who truly wants a small truck instead of today’s Road Whales™. This new engine will just make the Sonic feel quicker, which will be a huge upgrade. On the other hand, it’s reputation is probably already shot and the upgrade probably won’t have a significant effect on sales unless Chevy and the dealerships go out of their way to demonstrate the improvement.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      It’s probably more for corporate streamlining than any attempt to re-market the car. Having just one engine across the lineup makes assembly, stocking, certification, and maintenance simpler…probably simple enough to mitigate the difference in build costs between the two motors.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        @Kyree +1

        I’ve often wanted someone with dedication (maybe “AteUpWithMotor” – a great automotive history site) to take on the history of GM having similar displacement/similar HP motors in production simultaneously. In the 60s/70s/early 80s it had to be madness how many overlapping motors they were using just in the North American market.

        • 0 avatar
          Kyree S. Williams

          Right. And especially before that. The divisions had different motors. I remember hearing about Oldsmobile drivers suing GM because a batch of cars had Chevrolet engines.

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            Even in the 80s at one point they were using a 1.8 4cyl, a 2.0 4cyl, and a 2.5 4cyl in the J and A body FWD cars. Or that they bothered to develop a 3.3 V6 based on the 3800 while they had the 3.1 V6 and 3.4 V6 in production. That’s an even higher level of silly than Pontiac 350/Chevy 350/Buick 350/Olds 350.

        • 0 avatar
          Blackcloud_9

          Dan,
          A large thank you and just as large of a curse upon you for citing “AteUpWithMotor”.
          Thank you – because it truly is a great site. Clear informative material about the history and decision-making about the automotive industry. Neither all-glowing nor constant criticism.
          CURSE you – because here is another site I will be reading instead of getting my work done!

          • 0 avatar
            DweezilSFV

            Dan, don’t forget about the 3.0 V6 and the Brazilian OHC 1.8s and 2.0s further enlarged to 2.2 as as the Sunbird’s standard engine.

            Or the 2.0 OHC turbo used in the Sunbird and N Bodies.

  • avatar
    "scarey"

    OK, my memory of this could be wrong. I traded the car off 8 years ago. My bad.

  • avatar
    syncro87

    I’m sure there are a variety of reasons for the Sonic’s sales slide, but I think GM can thank themselves for a significant part of the decline. The original Sonic had fairly distinctive styling for an econocar. The 4 round headlight look was a hit. The car had a bit of personality, something you don’t find that often in the Sonic’s segment.

    When the current generation of the car came out, it looked more mature and refined than the prior version…but I’m not sure that is what appeals to the target person considering a Sonic.

    IMO, they got too conservative when they redesigned the thing, and this didn’t help sales. Making the turbo the standard engine is a good thing, but if the car is seen as boring by potential buyers, not sure it matters.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      That was just a facelift, not a redesign. There’s only been one generation of Sonic.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s such a good point. From the moment the Sonic came out for 2012, I loved the styling. The exposed quad headlights, tailight rings, and motorcycle-inspired gauges were unique, cool, and in the case of the gauges, extremely legible. The Sonic was different than most economy cars in that it had personality. It convinced us to buy our ‘15 Sonic hatch brand new, and that it was made in America.

      But the Sonic after the refresh……I’m not feeling it. It’s bland. It’s ubiquitous and generic. I probably wouldn’t buy the new one if I were in the same position three years ago. I hope to keep my ‘15 for many years

      • 0 avatar
        tankinbeans

        When I reas read the article I was surprised to find the Sonic was still a thing. It’s so far away from my radar.

        Of the Chevy sedans still on offer I notice more Malibus and Impalas, heavily weighted to the Malibu. The Cruze barely registers and I think I’ve only seen 1 refreshed Sonic this year.

    • 0 avatar
      DweezilSFV

      Feel the same way: it’s best styling features were the tails and the round headlights.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    The 1.4 in my Cruze was ok. I enjoyed the turbo-diesel like power band, made it feel stronger than its ratings. Having had a rental Cruze with the 1.8, the 1.4 was the way to go. Still a rather coarse engine, the 1.4, especially if you wind it up. Thankfully, with the powerband, WOT is not a place you have to go often.

  • avatar
    gasser

    I never understood the persistence of the 2.4 L (Verano, etc.) after the new 2.5 L was available. I would hope someone at GM would think that a way to goose sales might be to put a bigger, newer engine into a model, rather than just putting cash on the hood.

    • 0 avatar
      Thatkat09

      I know people complained that the 2.4 in the Verano was under powered but for the life of me, i’m not sure why. The one I rented felt down right powerful. Also shockingly gas hungry, I dont think I ever averaged over 30 in my drive from Fort Lauderdale to Orlando.

  • avatar
    TW5

    Conservative styling stands the test of time. The new Sonic might look a little bit boring, but it will be unoffensively boring for decades to come (like a modern Jetta). Not sure the same can be said for the new Civic.

    The older 1.4T engines weren’t the most reliable. Hopefully the new iteration is rock solid. The state of tune is well thought out. Keep specific output around 100hp/liter and focus on smooth predictable torque delivery.

    Manual is a nice touch. Not bad. I’ve been looking for a new commuter for nearly 1 year now, if the price is right, maybe it could be a Sonic.

    • 0 avatar
      syncro87

      Perhaps, but I’d guess that the target demographic for the Sonic is probably one the younger side of auto industry average, hence more risk can probably be taken. Younger buyers being a bit more likely to favor less conservative designs.

      The new Civic is selling quite well, BTW, so looks like Honda’s gamble has paid off. Car companies probably care more about what moves the metal versus whether the folks in 2026 think a 2016 Civic is attractive. Again, it probably comes down to who your target buyer is. The average Civic buyer is likely more tolerant of styling risk than the average Avalon buyer. Speaking of Jetta, I’ll be interested to see how many of them VW can move in the US per month.

      I drove a manual, turbo Sonic once upon a time. It was pretty good. The trunk in the sedan was impressively large for a small car.

    • 0 avatar
      tmport

      They haven’t changed the engine–it’s the same (old) 1.4 turbo that the Sonic has always had as an option. It’s not getting the updated 1.4 turbo, which has more power.

  • avatar

    Glad to see the Sonic gets to live another year, even if it means the 1.8 liter is lost along the way.

    The Sonic, IMO, is still one of the most livable subcompacts out there. Roomier than the Fiesta, quieter and more refined than the Fit, and more upscale than the Versa. We cross shopped for months and settled on our 2015 Sonic hatch with the 1.8 liter and manual. It has a big car feel, in typical GM fashion, with big comfy seats, solid handling, plenty of front room, and a hushed ride with minimal engine and road noise. And we get 32mpg around town, and can eek out 43mpg on the freeway. The fact it was built in America and had quirky styling (before the restyle) won us over. The manual transmission is effortless and slick, and the 1.8 isn’t fast, but never feels anemic. It’s a huge improvement over our prior gutless, flimsy Honda Fit.

    It’s a shame that buyers are turning their backs on these small cars. The Sonic is extremely competent, fun to drive, easy to live with, and after three years, I don’t have a single complaint.

  • avatar
    Johnster

    While the Sonic is decidedly “meh,” it is not terrible and it is a better car than the even smaller Chevrolet Spark. With Ford abandoning this segment it makes sense to keep the Sonic in production.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    I always liked the look of the Sonic, especially the hatch. Somehow it always turns my head, even the the new front design is OK. More torque? yes please, average drivers will feel more torque than horsepower. I’ve come to admit that I’m all about the torque. I drive a Lexus V8 with VVTi and I use the variable timing to ride the wave of torque under acceleration. In fact, if you accelerate just hard enough, you can ease off the throttle at just the right rate and feel the engine stay in maximum torque range all the way up.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Is there a “hot” version of this? I would love to see Z24 badges in this and some sort of “ST” version.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      BTW, I am in the middle of a move where I have already relocated and drive home on the weekends. I left the F150 parked and drove the Fiesta ST back because gas is a thing. Turns out she had a ton of stuff for me to take back that I figured there was no way would fit. It fit and I can still see out the back window. I get hatchbacks now lol.

  • avatar
    Blackcloud_9

    Interestingly, out here in SoCal I see a lot more Sparks than Sonics out in the wild. I had a Sonic as a loaner while my Spark EV (See?) was in for warranty work. It had the 1.8/Auto and it was a perfectly serviceable car. It did not inspire any desire. I also test-drove a Sonic while car shopping (Eventually ended up with a Soul). It had the 1.4T/Auto setup. I found the engine and tranny ill-suited to each other. The engine wanted to rev to enjoy the turbo spool-up but the trans wanted to keep up-shifting for fuel economy.

    • 0 avatar

      As a whole across the country, I tend to see more Sparks than Sonics. Which is bizarre, given America’s preference towards larger cars.

      Even more ironically, Australia, which has higher fuel prices and is more favourable to smaller cars, has had its smaller Holden Spark discontinued due to poor sales while the larger Holden Barina (Chevy Sonic) continues on with solid sales


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